As a general rule, every parent is legally obligated to financially support his or her children, regardless of employment status. The court determines the amount of child support a parent owes by first evaluating the child’s primary residence and the total time spent with each parent. The court then considers the income and expenses of both parents and the child. The specific amount of child support is determined by the child support guidelines of the state where the child support order is issued. However, deviations from these guidelines are permitted under certain circumstances. Once a child support order is in place, the amount can only be modified if one parent can prove to the court that there has been a significant change in circumstances. Most states require a parent to demonstrate a “material” or “substantial and continuing” change to justify a modification.

Many parents return to college at some point to obtain a better education. Returning to college may mean that a parent is unable to work full-time, or he or she might need to quit employment altogether. Although a parent’s choice to attend college might be intended to increase his or her income and be better situated to support the child in the future, the court might not consider a parent’s choice to return to college as sufficient to modify a current child support order because of a decrease in the income of that parent. This is because a parent’s choice to attend college is voluntary, and it may appear that the parent is not fulfilling his or her obligation to support the child. The court will look to various factors to determine whether the decision to return to college is reasonable, including whether the parent can continue to work while attending college, the financial impact of the parent’s decision on the child, whether the additional education is likely to increase the parent’s income, the length of time of the educational program, and the age of the child. If the circumstances demonstrate that the choice is reasonable and made in good faith, a court may grant a modification due to a parent’s choice to return to school.

Parents who are contemplating a decision to return to college to complete their education should understand that it can be challenging to convince a court that their choice to return to college warrants a reduction of their child support obligation. Therefore, it is crucial to seek advice from a competent attorney who can assess the likelihood of decreasing your child support obligation if you are considering returning to school.

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